Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.
There’s a moment in Happy Endings‘ season 2 finale, “Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and a Funeral),” in which guest star Stephen Guarino (as groom Derrick) tells the show’s regulars he doesn’t have time for their endless bantering: “The back and forth, it’s exhausting. I don’t even know what you’re saying half the time. So slow down!” As a fan of Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and Aaron Sorkin, creator David Caspe admits he’s preconditioned to enjoying a fast-paced show. (Exec producer Jonathan Groff says EP/director Joe Russo even told the cast — Casey Wilson, Damon Wayans Jr., Adam Pally, Zachary Knighton, Elisha Cuthbert, and Eliza Coupe — to go see The Social Network as they began work on the series.) But Caspe can think of two other reasons for its rapid-fire dialogue, which he’s been told some fans have to rewind to catch: The show’s writers find the six characters so funny, they want them all to get jokes in every episode and pen scripts that are too long, and his own insecurity.
“A window into my troubled soul is I tend to think well, f—, if we just keep throwin’ them at ’em, they won’t have any time to hate any of them,” Caspe says, with a laugh. “In my opinion, it kinda takes the pressure off the jokes. If you didn’t like this one, maybe this one! It’s sorta my desperate attempt to be liked. I sometimes watch the show and feel like it’s just me screaming out ‘Love me! Love me! Love me! Love me! Love me!”
Here, Caspe and Groff take us inside the ABC comedy’s season finale and tease what’s to come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why is the season finale an episode Emmy voters should revisit?
JONATHAN GROFF: For me, it’s really, really funny in the way that we can be really funny, but I also like the fact there’s some nice emotional moments between our characters that feel real, between Dave and Penny [who say “I love you,” leading Penny to wonder if they could be more than friends], and Dave and Alex [who start dating again], and Jane and Brad [who deal with the loss of his high-paying job], and Max and Alex [who address Max’s low self-esteem that’s keeping him from reuniting with the Madonna cover band Mandonna].
David, when I chatted with Casey Wilson, who also made our Emmy wish list, she told me about you going out to dinner with her and one of her old high school classmates, who shared that she and her friends in Ohio refer to a vagina as a “hush.” You said that had to end up in the show, and it did, in Penny’s infamous “Whore’s Bath” monologue last season. When you’re putting so many jokes in an episode, is that how they happen?
DAVID CASPE: This show is written completely by committee. There are 12 or more awesome writers and it’s a best-idea-wins environment in the room. That experience that I had with “hush,” every other line or joke in a script you could probably relate to one of those writers having the same type of experience, being out to dinner, hearing something that made them think, Oh, it would be funny if Penny did that, or if Max did that.
GROFF: For example, in the finale, when Penny gets seated at the Skype table at the wedding, which is apparently a thing that is happening now — that came from Hilary Winston, one of our writers who’s been at more singles tables at weddings than she wants to admit, saying, “What’s next? What’s the next worst thing that could happen in that experience?” And she came up with that. I think all writers rooms are like that. At Everybody Loves Raymond, it was like, “What did your kid say this weekend? What trouble did you get into with your wife this weekend?” The cast contributes good stuff, too.
Tell me the origin of Mandonna.
CASPE: That’s a great example of what we were just saying.
GROFF: Josh Bycel, who cowrote the finale with Leila Strachan, actually knew four straight guys who were in an all-male Madonna cover band called Mandonna. He actually called them and said, “Hey, we’re gonna use your guys’ name,” and they were flattered…. Getting Madonna and her publishers and representatives to agree to let us use “Like a Prayer” was a long process, and we were so grateful to them and to her and our music supervisors. We called in every favor. We got agents who know people at CAA, who know her people, and so on. We didn’t really find out until a few days before we were gonna shoot that we were gonna get to use that song. So we had to simultaneously prepare for Max being in another cover band. Max was gonna have been in a Sixpence None the Richer cover band and perform “Kiss Me.”
CASPE: The name was gonna be Sex Pants None the Richer.
GROFF: We had all these parallel scenes written about Max’s sex pants. “Max, you have to put on the sex pants again! Come on! Sex pants! Sex pants!” All those chants of “Mandonna!” were gonna be “Sex Pants!” if Madonna and her people had said, “No thanks.” That shows you how harrowing and last-minute stuff can be.
Yes, when I talked to Casey, she said her and Megan Mullally’s “Torn” duet last season was originally supposed to be “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree.
GROFF: That was a similar thing, and we didn’t get the song in that case. Des’ree is very proprietary about that song, apparently.
CASPE: Never even responded to our request. I don’t know if she’s ever licensed that song.
GROFF: I think she’s very much like, “Nobody’s gonna mess with that song.”
Let’s talk about the decision for Penny to become even more conscious of her feelings for Dave.
CASPE: Interestingly, I had that in the initial draft of the pilot, with a moment toward the end where you could tell that Penny had interest in Dave.
GROFF: It was also part of her initial reaction to Alex leaving Dave at the altar.
CASPE: Sorta like the single girl on the frontline meeting all the terrible guys saying, “How could you ever leave a guy that great at the altar?” Ultimately, we felt like there was a little too much stuff in the pilot, which had a lot going on, so we ended up cutting it. But it was always an idea for the series going forward. Last season, we just started to work with it a little. We didn’t want to be too heavy-headed on it because I think the audience is a little weary of will-they-or-won’t-they because they’ve seen it done a lot and also seen it done well.
GROFF: I think the other reason we tread lightly, honestly, is that Alex and Penny are roommates now and they are such a fun, endearing relationship. They are two of the characters who’ve known each other forever — they grew up down the street from each other — so any kind of consideration of this is a big deal for Penny. I think a lot of things would have to move in place for this triangle to make sense as something to explore.
At the end of the finale, we saw Alex and Dave holding hands. Should we assume they’ll be dating when season 3 premieres?
CASPE: Yes, we will pick up a week or so after that wedding. I think we can tease that in the premiere, they’re casually dating. They’re “keepin’ it cas” as they say.
GROFF: It will be interesting to see if a couple with that much history can actually keep it cas. We decided to explore the ramifications on the friends immediately, as opposed to playing any episodes trying to keep it from the friends.
I feel like after last season, the year of Penny, she truly joined Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope as the characters to whom single female viewers relate most. How do you look at Penny?
CASPE: We look at her as optimistic in a great way, indefatigable. She’s out there in what can be this harried world for a single girl in her late 20s, but Penny just keeps on coming.
GROFF: I think Casey informed a lot of that when we cast her. There’s an essential positivity to her despite everything that happens to her that is endearing and makes you want to root for her. But I can tell you some of the stuff that we’re thinking of right away for her this season [Laughs], it’s not the year of Penny. There might be some things that are a challenge for her. But, I know Casey, like us, is very interested in seeing Penny in a relationship and how she screws that up. Is she sometimes more the author of her own demise?